Key bills passed since July 2017: Martial law extension, Train, Bangsamoro
On July 24, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his second State of the Nation Address (Sona) for more than two hours, highlighting national issues he wants to solve and legislative goals he wants to achieve.
Among these proclamations were his administration’s “unrelenting” fight against illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption despite international and local pressures.
These statements, more often than not, translate to marching orders and signals for various branches of the government, especially for the legislative branch: the Senate and the House of Representatives. At the House, where the majority rule prevails, having many allies is a key advantage of the Duterte administration.
Rogelio Alicor Panao, assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines-Diliman, explained that Congress members are “generally in favor” of the President in most cases.
“Kasi karamihan ng nasa Congress, lalo sa lower house ay kaalyado ng Presidente. Ang Presidente meron siyang command sa mga myembro ng Congress na kapartido niya,” Panao told INQUIRER.net in an interview.
(This is because most members of Congress, especially in the lower house, are allies of the President, especially his partymates.)
However, with his extensive research on the relationship between the executive and legislative branches in the Philippine government and on law-making in the House, Panao now predicts that since Duterte is now halfway through his six-year single term, his influence on legislators would begin to dwindle. The reason? It’s all about politics and self-interest.
INQUIRER.net has rounded up the top legislative output of the lower chamber from Duterte’s Sona in 2017 to the Sona on Monday, July 23, hoping to get a glimpse of the President’s plans for the country in his next three years at the helm.
Peace and order
1. Extension of martial law
On May 23, 2017, President Duterte imposed martial law in Mindanao through Proclamation 216 after the Islamic State-inspired Maute terrorist group attacked the Islamic City of Marawi, and attempted to establish a caliphate there. Consequently, the presidential directive suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the southern region.
During his Sona in July 2017, the 73-year-old first Mindanaoan President of the Philippines justified his declaration of the martial rule as “the fastest way to quell the rebellion at the least cost of lives and properties.”
“There is rebellion in Mindanao. The extremists have declared it their purpose to establish a caliphate within Philippine territory along the teachings and beliefs of (the) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or otherwise known as ISIS,” Duterte said.
“I declared Martial Law in Mindanao because I believed that that was the fastest way to quell the rebellion at the least cost of lives and properties… Martial Law and the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus enable the military to arrest, detain and question suspected members and sympathizers of the rebellion similar to what happened to the parents of the Maute brothers,” he continued.
Even as the government declared an end to fierce urban fighting in Marawi, he would later ask Congress to extend martial rule in the southern region until the end of 2018.
On December 13, 2017, Congress overwhelmingly granted the President’s request for the second time.
2. Congress Joint Resolution on salary increase of uniformed personnel
In line with his fight against criminality, Duterte also acknowledged the military and the police as “the silent heroes” who deserve comprehensive social and financial assistance.
“At the vanguard of our struggle for peace and order are our Armed Forces and Police. They are the silent heroes who risk their lives every day for our country’s security. In recognition of their valor, we have crafted a program to provide them with comprehensive social assistance, including financial, should they meet harm in the performance of their duty,” he said during his Sona in 2017.
This statement would later translate to the passage of Congress Joint Resolution Number 1, authorizing the increase in base pay of military and uniformed personnel on January 1, 2018.
3. PNP given subpoena powers
Still in line with the Duterte administration’s anti-criminality drive, Congress approved on March 1, 2018 Republic Act (RA) 10973, a law granting the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the director and deputy director for administration of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) the authority to administer oath and to issue subpoena.
4. Postponement of local polls
Duterte said he wanted to postpone the elections because he feared drug money may be used to fund the campaign of some candidates.
Originally scheduled for Oct. 31, 2016, the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections were moved to Oct. 23, 2017, and then postponed again to May 14, 2018, effectively extending the three-year term of village officials who were retained in a holdover capacity. This was made through RA 10952.
Another attempt to postpone the local polls last May 14 was unsuccessful even as the House approved on third reading another bill seeking to move the date of the village and youth elections. This was because the Senate no longer sees the need to cancel the elections anew.
5. RA 10951, or the Revised Penal Code
Congress has also passed a law that increases the outdated amounts in the Revised Penal Code on which fines and penalties are based. The new law, Republic Act 10951, imposes fines and penalties ranging from P1,000 to P4 million for various offenses.
Laws that may improve the lives of people
Aside from passing laws that are in line with the Duterte administration’s anti-drug and anti-criminality drive, Congress has also passed several laws that could help Filipinos.
Among these legislations were the following:
1. RA 10928, the law extending the validity of Philippine passports from five to 10 years, except for those of minors, was signed on Aug. 2, 2017.
2. RA 10928, the law extending the validity period of drivers’ licenses from three years to five years, was also signed on Aug. 2, 2017.
3. On Aug. 3, 2017, Duterte signed RA 10931, or the law promoting universal access to quality tertiary education by providing for free tuition and other school fees in State universities and colleges (SUCs) and State-run technical vocational institutions.
4. On Aug. 3, 2017, Duterte also signed RA 10932, the law strengthening the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law by increasing penalties for hospitals and medical clinics which refuse to administer medical treatment for patients in emergency or serious medical conditions.
5. In June 2018, the President also signed RA 11036 or the Philippine Mental Health Law, RA 11053 or the Anti-Hazing Act of 2018, an amendment of the 1995 version, and RA 11035, or the Balik Scientist Act, providing incentives and assistance to Filipino scientists, experts, inventors, and engineers returning to the country.
During Duterte’s Sona last year, he reiterated his directive to all government agencies “to further streamline their respective services to make these truly efficient, and people-friendly.”
“We want to ensure that our people receive the quality services that they deserve, minus the delays caused by bureaucratic red tape. I expect speedy reforms along this line. We will right-size the national government,” he said.
Congress passed the bill, and on May 28. 2018, he signed RA 11032, or an act establishing a national policy on ease of doing business.
READ: Duterte signs Ease of Doing Business Act to boost competitiveness
Congress has also made headlines for passing highly criticized measures like the RA 10963 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) Law.
Despite Duterte’s assurances that his administration’s tax reforms “are designed to be pro-poor, especially when the people understand how the revenues will be spent,” many Filipinos continue to experience otherwise, especially with the continuing increase in the inflation rate.
“The poor and vulnerable are at the heart of my tax reform. Your support would ensure that the benefits of the tax reform can be felt immediately by them,” Duterte said in his 2017 Sona.
In his speech, he also warned erring mining companies “to refrain from the unbridled and irresponsible destruction of our watersheds, forests, and aquatic resources.” He even declared that he would “tax them to death.”
Under the Train Law, the mining excise tax has been raised from 2 percent to 4 percent. The law also imposed higher excise taxes on fuel products, cars, tobacco, and sugar-sweetened beverage. But it also increased the tax-free cap of the 13th-month pay and other bonuses received by workers to P90,000, as well as the tax income exemption to P250,000.
The lower chamber also had its share of controversial measures like House Bill 7303, or an act instituting absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage in the Philippines. The chamber approved it on third and final reading last March 19, 2018.
This measure remains pending as the Senate, some members of which had already expressed opposition to the bill, has yet to act on it. Duterte is also against it, saying it would be bad for children of separated parents.
The Bangsamoro Organic Law
Duterte has promised that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would come into fruition under his term.
In his Sona last year, he said he took steps to promote inclusiveness in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) by expanding its membership through Executive Order Number 8, which he signed in November 2016.
“By giving representation to indigenous peoples, women, children, and sultanates, and key stakeholders in the drafting of the Bangsa[moro] Basic Law, we ensure a Bangsamoro government that truly reflects the aspirations of our Muslim brothers and sisters as well as our indigenous brethren,” he said.
The bicameral conference committee on BBL approved last July 18, the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) or the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
The panel said they would forward the proposed measure to Duterte for review. If the President approves it, both chambers of Congress would have it ratified in plenary when they convene for the third regular session at 10 a.m.on July 23. President Duterte can sign it into law before his State of the Nation Address (Sona) at 4:00 p.m.
READ: Bicam approves Bangsamoro Organic Law
Charter change (Cha-cha), federalism
As early as January 18, 2018, the lower chamber already adopted House Concurrent Resolution No. 9, convening Congress into a Constituent assembly (Con-ass) to amend the 1987 Constitution, enabling the country to shift to a federal form of government. It is Congress acting as such that would determine the final draft of the federal charter to be presented to the Filipino people for ratification.
But while the House has already made its move, Charter change (Cha-cha) initiatives remain pending in Senate. Senators are also united in their stance that once they convene in a Con-ass, both chambers should vote separately instead of jointly, as the House proposed.
The President also created a Consultative Committee (Con-com) which approved draft federal charter last July 3.
Despite continuous efforts to push for federalism, coupled with Duterte’s stronghold in the legislative branch and his popularity, people have yet to agree with his administration’s flagship advocacy of federalism.
But House Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia revealed that aside from the Bangsamoro Organic Law, Cha-cha is among the top priority of the House for the third regular session of the 17th Congress.
Garcia also admitted the need for the House to conduct a massive information campaign to educate the Filipino people on the features of the proposed federal system.
Panao doubts that the no-election scenario and the peoples’ initiative to change to Constitution being floated by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez could come into reality.
“Mas malaki pa ang possibility na matuloy election at maisantabi ang Constitutional change (There is a big possibility that the election will push through and the Constitutional change may be set aside),” he said.
“If Speaker Alvarez is banking on the idea of a peoples’ initiative, I don’t think that’s likely given that if you analyze surveys, the overall sentiment is against Charter change. Malabo (not clear),” he added.
Panao said local government units could be empowered by amending the Local Government Code of the country, instead of shifting to federalism. Legislators need to be creative in crafting laws, he stressed, especially now that they are losing time to push for the shift.
He stressed the crucial role of Congress in instituting changes to the country.
“Mahalaga nag Kongreso kasi (Congress is important because) they are representatives of the people, and they should represent the needs of you and me, the man on the streets, of everyone,” he said.
But he asked: “Sinasalamin ba ng kanilang mga panukala at ng profile ng mga mambabatas ang ordinaryong Pilipino (Do laws enacted by Congress and the profile lawmakers reflect the ordinary Filipino)?”
As the government branch that is mandated to give life to the Constitution through lawmaking, Panao said Congress should do its part. “Meron din namang teorya sinasabing ang pangulo ang nagse-set ng legislative agenda, oo, pero wala ka bang gagawin (There is a theory that says the Presisdent is the setting the legislative agenda, but aren’t they going to do anything?)” he asked.
However, the professor also underscored the need for the Filipino people to be vigilant, citing Article II, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, which specifically states that, “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”
“Pero tayo ring botante merong responsibilidad na paalalahanan, i-shake ang ating mga leaders (The voters also have the responsibility to ‘shake’ our leaders),” he said, adding that the public should lobby for relevant legislation.
He said the people has the power to make or break the vibrancy and relevance of the country’s policies and laws, and from thereon, the country’s future.
From July 25, 2016 to May 30, 2018, Congress passed a total of 30 laws that are national in scope, according to the data released by the House Press and Public Affairs Bureau on June 6. /ee
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